The Final Service at St George
translated by Amanda Price
The Final Service at St George held on 24 November 1996
Sermon taken from Hebrews 4, 9-11.
May the Grace and Peace of God, Our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you!
1764: A ship full of immigrants has just arrived in the docks. On the following afternoon, a Sunday, Heinrich and Katharina Dierks set off on foot to explore their new home, the narrow lanes of London's East End. Jakob Friedrichsen is accompanying them. He has been living in the city by the river for a number of years already and has adopted the name of James Fredericksen. 'ls there always so much going on here?' asks Dierks. 'All these people in the streets; there's even someone selling goods!'
'You can be sure that only enterprising people have set up home here. Anyone timid would have stayed at home and not dared to cross the Channel.'
'And the king's got nothing against it, people selling things I mean, on a Sunday?'
'Oh, he doesn't worry as long as he's left in peace. His situation is somewhat precarious at the moment and he's trying to scrape money together to spend in America and India.' 'Hey, look at that!' Fredericksen pointed to a crippled soldier in a faded Braunschweig uniform. 'He's worse off than you are, at least you came back home in one piece!' he said.
They carried on their way in silence. Then Katharine stopped suddenly in her stride. 'Home? That place is not home any more. For seven long years war thundered around us; first it was the Braunschweigers who pressganged Heinrich, the buttons on the uniforms were still shining then. Afterwards, it was the French and then the Brandenburgers, tattered and starving. Everything had been laid waste when Heinrich came back. It wasn't the same home he had left. And when we left Germany, I don't think anyone missed us or pined for us, they were just grateful they had two fewer mouths to feed.'
'Ah but don't let yourselves believe that life is easy here. But at least you are alive. You've just got to look ahead now, not back. Did you know that they are laying new drainage pipes under the streets in Westminster, but it will be a while before east London gets any. At least they've torn down our old city gates at last, which has made space for new buildings. Hey, that's our new church over there, by the way. They've just finished it. It looks impressive, doesn't it!'
'What, a church, just for us Germans?'
'But of course! There are so many Germans here now we couldn't go on without a church for much longer. A new Pastor from Germany has arrived and the young king has even donated a crest for the church; it is named after him of course, George's Church.'
Surprised, they carried on.
A new church, erected in the middle of a steadily expanding colony of German immigrants escaping from the poverty created by the Seven Years War. Better to be poor in London than starve in Soltau, Buxtehude or Wolfenbüttel. Painful memories often returned to remind them of the happier times, of well-practised customs and church services, before the devastation of the war changed everything.
Everything was different here in London. The language more than anything, but also the mentality, the hectic dealers, the shrill sounds of the market in Spitalfields, the heavy work in the sugar refineries. It did people good to have somewhere peaceful to go, somewhere to get things off their chests, to pray and sing in their mother tongue. St George's was such a place where one's soul could find peace again, in that year of 1764 and for more than two hundred years after as well. Peace for the people, the German immigrants.
Our verses today concern the peace of God and what it means for us:
So there is another peace for the people of God. For he who seeks God's peace, rests from his work as God rests from his own. So may we strive to find that peace so that no one stumbles on the rock of disobedience.
In this section, our sole theme is peace. 'Peace' is the keyword with so many nuances of meaning. In these short sentences, all temporal dimensions are addressed - the past, the present and the future with God.
Out of the experience of the past, the letter to the Hebrews unfolds the original motive of Jewish belief: God moves with his people. He is with them in the desert, with them at times of disaccord and at times of doubt. The disobedient have no place in the letter to the Hebrews. Do not take the disobedient as an idol. The peace of settlement was once denied to a whole generation because the desert sand misdirected their eyes away from God. Beside the warning he places promise.
Out of the past, the book draws a second thread into the present: peace on the day of rest. 'Receive this gift, this special gift of God for yourselves, the peace of the Sabbath.' The sabbath becomes an oasis of rest in the hectic of life. It is one day on which to get closer to God. A day on which we can feel God's nearness more clearly than ever: in church, in being with others, but above all in one's own inner peace. For one day alone all filofaxing stops. And then, what about the future? This one day in the week is a foretaste of the peace that is awaiting us with God. If we can bring an end to our fidgetiness, it is here we find the peace of God. For this reason I have chosen this sermon on this Sunday of Eternity.
So all dimensions have been included:
God's peace - may we learn from the past.
God's peace - are we open to God, now?
God's peace - He awaits us.
lf we admit to ourselves that these dimensions of time are decisive in our lives, all other aspects of our lives become organised like in a magnetic field: our work, our families, our personalities, our devotion and also our church communities. They are splinters in this magnetic field that become settled around the pole of God's eternal peace. God gives that we, too, may be drawn into the power of this Pole. As Augustine once wrote, 'Restless is our heart until it finds its peace with You.'
lf we permit God to bestow peace upon us, then we can feel the power that makes us act, precisely because decisive decisions have already been made. Just as with Augustine, great works are done after peace is found.
My wish is therefore that we, members of the St George's congregation and community, put our trust in the new paths God has planned for us, that we may help shape their design and not be afraid of the new. We thank God for all the blessings he has bestowed upon us during more than two hundred years. We will look back not only with a feeling of thankfulness in our hearts, but also sadness that our time has come to part.
Even I, who have been here only one year, leave with a feeling of regret, but our work with God will continue. We know that to be the case, because he has saved His peace for us, whether it be in St George or a few kilometres away at St Marien and St George or anywhere else in the community.
In the middle of the eighteenth century, circumstances created the need for a German church in the East End of London, for the Dierks and the Fredericksens, the Sievekings and the Winters. In Germany, the churches had become empty. Today, we have to close this church door, but others are sure to open in the future.